Google Local Symposium: Listen Carefully, It Is Google

Google is simultaneously the most open and most shut business I can think of. On one hand, it is amazingly transparent. You walk around the two campuses in Mountain View and you can walk right by Larry and Sergey’s offices. During my short time there, I even spied CEO Eric Schmidt casually ambling by with a group of Japanese businessmen.

It also takes real pains to understand its partners, and to help their businesses. What’s the word I am thinking of? It is thoughtful. And it keeps the checks coming.

On the other hand … it hardly ever says anything. Not in public, or in private. Like magicians, its executives mostly want to show off demos of its increasingly large roster of products. And while it pays its partners nicely, and on time — it is even a life saver for many companies — who knows what the payment formulas really consist of? Basically, it doesn’t think it is any of our business.

So it was interesting to fly out to the Google-plex to speak at the company’s first Local Symposium, with 120 invited partners and would-be partners. The symposium was not necessarily a unique event — apparently, Google is going right down the list of business segments, doing one symposium after another. But it was unique to us Local Onliners.

Craig Newmark gave the keynote. Steve Johnson from Outside.in was on stage, too. As was Josh Walker from CityVoter, Court Cunningham from Yodle and Zorik Gordon from Reach Local. And then there was our local blogger panel, and a group of local businesses that use Google products.

None of this was Google-centric. It was local-centric. We were welcome — and even encouraged — to talk about whatever we wanted to. Even the Yahoo! Newspaper consortium.

Google’s own efforts at the symposium were to go over its rules and best practices, and to discuss some of its ongoing efforts with call reporting, mobile ads, printable coupons and Web site analytics. It was not very revealing, but it was pretty helpful.

Some highlights:

General Improvements: Simple signup and pricing, snapshot “proofs” of ads, and minimal campaign management. “We want to drive customers through the door.”

Call Reporting: Google is providing extensive call reporting to small-business advertisers for both online and offline ad formats (including radio and print). The reporting includes frequency, duration and originating location, and advertisers can use either local or toll-free numbers.

Mobile Ads: Google is rolling out AdSense for Mobile, including syndicated search ads on search partner results. The service carries the same charges as online clicks.

Google Maps for Mobile: In addition to putting maps on the phone, Google is enhancing them with traffic reports and satellite views.

Printable Coupons: Remember when Jeff Jarvis said Google’s entry into coupons was the true death knell for newspapers? That may or may not be true. But Google is pushing a coupon capability via its local business center. A coupons link appears on local listings and on Google maps search results. They can also be searched at the local level.

Web Site Analytics: Google intends to expand the use of its free analytics tool for small businesses. The analytics, formerly Urchin Software, is embedded directly in AdWords. Advertisers that take advantage of the tools tend to spend more as a result. It has proved especially powerful for geotargeting.

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